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Reducing Holiday Stress for Thyroid Health

Six ways to take care of your thyroid during the holiday season.
Reducing Holiday Stress for Thyroid Health

All year we look forward to the holiday season - to those candy canes and silver lanes aglow. There’s something so magical about the year-end, reflecting on what’s been and anticipating what’s yet to come.

Except with this season also comes a sleigh-full of stressors, like money woes, family drama, and braving the airport with every other person in America. 

The adrenal-thyroid connection

The adrenals are small, triangular-shaped glands located above the kidneys. These glands produce the stress hormone, cortisol. Cortisol controls how you respond to stress, and how your body fights infection, adjusts blood sugar levels, and regulates blood pressure.

A 2012 study published in the Thyroid Research Journal suggests that elevated thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) is associated with elevated cortisol.  

TSH is a hormone produced by the pituitary gland in the brain. It regulates the amount of thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3) produced by the thyroid gland. Elevated TSH may be a sign that the body is under-producing thyroid hormones, indicative of hypothyroidism.

One explanation for the positive TSH-cortisol relationship is the subtle metabolic stress caused by hypothyroidism. This metabolic stress may impose an effect on the adrenals leading to an increase in stress hormone production.

So, if you have an underactive thyroid, it may be helpful to consider some common triggers as we enter into this season of Yuletide carols to keep stress low.

Six ways to take care of your thyroid during the holidays:

1. Enter energy-saving mode

Unsexy as it may be, the holidays are a time to plan. Be responsible with how you use your energy because it may not feel like you have limitless amounts as other people seemingly do. Plan, so you don't run out of power. When will you do your shopping? What do you need to clean or prepare before hosting? Should you attend that event with your aunt whose always up for politics at the dinner table? Don't let yourself get to that frightening 2% and not be able to function. 

2. Check-in with yourself

Make time to rest and recharge. The same 2012 study says that sustained increases in cortisol and TSH have been separately linked with depression, anxiety, and poor cognitive functioning. The added stressors of both the winter and holiday seasons can certainly make these symptoms worse. Self-care makes a huge difference, and there's no need to overcomplicate it. 

Ask yourself these four questions to help manage your physical and mental energy:

  1. Are you eating well?
  2. Are you getting enough sleep?
  3. Are you doing something to relieve stress?
  4. Are you connecting with people who matter to you?

* Seek help from a licensed mental health professional if needed.

3. Move your body

Low thyroid hormone production can leave your muscles weak, achy, or stiff. In addition to reducing the body's levels of stress hormones, movement stimulates the production of endorphins, which are natural painkillers and mood elevators, according to Harvard Medical School. Don't overcomplicate this one, either. A 20-minute walk is all you need to soak in some benefits.  

4. Catch some zzz's 

Hypothyroidism can cause abnormal sleep patterns, so it's of particular importance to take care of your sleep routine during the holiday season. Know when you have an obligation the next day, and work backward to set a bedtime that allows you 7 to 9 hours of sleep. A survey from the American Psychological Association says that adults who sleep fewer than eight hours a night report higher stress levels than those who sleep at least eight hours a night. You might also turn off all electronics one hour before going to sleep and avoid alcohol or caffeine too close to bedtime. 

5. Drink responsibly 

Holiday festivities so often include lots of alcohol, so drink responsibly. There's no hard or fast rule when it comes to drinking and hypothyroidism. Choose what feels best for your body. However, alcohol can increase intestinal permeability (also known as "leaky gut syndrome"), which may contribute to the symptoms of hypothyroidism. Additionally, alcohol impacts the same areas of your brain that control mood, so drinking may increase those stress levels we're trying to keep down. 

6. Eat for success

The more dietary stress you put on yourself, the more likely you are to experience inflammation. This inflammation can worsen your autoimmune reactions and interfere with your thyroid function. Whether you eat gluten-free, dairy-free, or soy-free, or follow a specific diet, stick with foods that make you feel your best. Plan and be prepared. Tuck some thyroid-friendly snacks in your bag, or bring your favorite foods when eating at other people's houses. Focus on foods that make you feel your best, and chat with a Paloma Nutritionist if you need some support along the way.

What are your tips and tricks for staying merry and stress-free during the holiday season? In what areas do you need seasonal support? 

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